Thursday, August 25, 2011

Radiocarbon dating of the Shroud debunked in an Australian high school textbook!

I am a relief (aka substitute, supply) high school teacher and today I had several Society and Environment (i.e. Social Studies) classes.

One of the lessons in one of those S&E classes that I taught today was about how archaeologists date the past.

[Left (click to enlarge): Easton, M., et al., "SOSE Alive 1: Studies of Society and Environment," John Wiley and Sons: Milton QLD, Australia, 2003, p.15]

There was nothing surprising about that. But it was surprising that the example of radiocarbon dating cited was that of the Shroud of Turin. And what was astonishing (to me at least) was that the textbook actually debunked the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud, by pointing out that after that radiocarbon dating which "indicated the cloth was only around 700 years old," "further tests were done" and "These proved that only the bacteria and mould on the cloth were around 700 years old," and so "The mystery continues":

"One famous object that has been radiocarbon dated is the Shroud of Turin - said by some to be the cloth in which Christ was wrapped after his crucifixion. These tests, carried out in the late 1980s, indicated the cloth was only around 700 years old. Then further tests were done. These proved that only the bacteria and mould on the cloth were around 700 years old. The mystery continues. Written records confirm the cloth did exist in 1357." (Easton, M., et al., "SOSE Alive 1: Studies of Society and Environment," John Wiley and Sons: Milton QLD, 2003, p.15).

Unfortunately there was no time to discuss the dating of the Shroud in class, but many of the students in that class (and innumerable students across Australia since the book was first published in 2002) would have read that paragraph and would have absorbed its take-home message that the radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin as being only 700 years old, was flawed.

Now I don't totally agree that the reason the Shroud was carbon-dated to around 1325 AD was because the bacteria and mould on the cloth was 700 years old. But I do agree that the bacteria and mould on the Shroud, being more recent carbon, would have markedly skewed the radiocarbon age of the Shroud to make it appear to be younger than its actual chronological age.

And what's more, the late Prof. Harry Gove, co-founder of the AMS radiocarbon method used to date the Shroud also agreed, that the "bioplastic coating of the linen fibrils could not have been removed even by the most stringent pretreatment cleaning process and would, definitely, skew the real age of the linen":

"The C-14) test performed at the Arizona AMS clearly showed a wide discrepancy, on the average of 550) years between the linen and the bird's body. Microscope examination showed the presence of a bioplastic coating not only on the bird's and mummy's wrappings, but also on the Shroud, a sample of which Dr. Garza-Valdes studied in Turin. In his own words, `As soon as I looked at a segment in the microscope, I knew it was heavily contaminated. I knew that what had been radiocarbon dated was a mixture of linen and bacteria and bioplastic coating that had grown or. the fibers for centuries.' [Barrett, J., "Science & the shroud," The Mission, Magazine of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Spring 1996]. Naturally, Dr. Garza-Valdes' discovery, was received with skepticism by some scientists ... However, on December 22, 1998, in a TV interview aired by the learning channel on cable TV, Professor Harry Gove, the co-inventor of the AMS procedure stated unequivocally that, `... bioplastic coating of the linen fibrils could not have been removed even by the most stringent pretreatment cleaning process and would, definitely, skew the real age of the linen.'[TLC-TV: In Pursuit of the Shroud, Dec. 22, 1998.]" (Konikiewicz, L.W., "Turin Shroud and the Science: Digital Enhancement Provides New Evidence," Panorama Publishing:, Chicago IL, 1999, pp.44-45).

What is really important about this paragraph in a high school textbook is that it is evidence that it is becoming increasingly widely accepted in the broader scientific and academic world generally that the 1988 radiocarbon-dating of the Shroud as "medieval" was wrong!

And to paraphrase Harvard geneticist, Prof. Richard Lewontin:
"... to put a correct view ... into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out."

Stephen E. Jones, BSc.
My other blogs: CreationEvolutionDesign & Jesus is Jehovah!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prof. Joel Bernstein's lecture, "The Shroud of Turin: What science can tell us" #1

As I briefly reported on Dan Porter's Shroud of Turin blog, I attended this lecture by Chemistry Professor Joel Bernstein (1941-2019)

[Right (enlarge): Part of the flyer advertising Prof. Joel Bernstein's lecture on the Shroud.]

on 28 July 2011 at Scitech, Perth, Western Australia.

I wrote copious notes in almost total darkness and discovered that I had written it all in green ink using my 4-color ballpoint pen! But I was relieved to find later that it was almost all legible.

It would make this post far too long to report everything Prof. Bernstein said, and then add my critique, so I will only highlight and then comment on what seemed to me to be the most important points. Even then, this post would be too long, so I have split it into two parts: part #1 being a general introduction to Prof. Bernstein's lecture, and part #2, examining Prof. Bernstein's claims about the Shroud based on the anti-authenticity research of former Cornell University chemical microscopist, the late Dr. Walter McCrone (1916-2002).

It was explained by the speaker introducing Prof. Bernstein that 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry which involved promoting understanding of chemistry and the scientific method. Prof. Bernstein (hereafter just Bernstein for brevity) then began his lecture by contrasting "good science" with "pathological science," with the Shroud of Turin pro-authenticity research being his chosen example of the latter. Indeed, it was not even science at all, but just faith as his overheads began and concluded with the "Science vs Faith" false dichotomy.

Bernstein put on the screen the covers of seven books on the Shroud that he got off the Web. He admitted that he had not read any of them except the late McCrone's Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin which he quoted from extensively. Prof. Bernstein admitted that McCrone was "one of his heroes" having been a revered figure in Chemistry at Cornell University where Bernstein gained his PhD: "When I was at Cornell it was, `McCrone, McCrone, McCrone.'" Significantly Bernstein cited McCrone's establishment of his reputation by his debunking of the Vinland Map, without disclosing to the audience that McCrone was later found to be wrong!

It was clear that Bernstein uncritically (and therefore unscientifically) accepted everything his "hero" McCrone wrote on the Shroud as Gospel Truth and he even during the Q&A at the end of the lecture ignorantly claimed of McCrone's analysis of STURP's 32 sticky tapes pressed onto the Shroud that "no one had ever written a book saying `this guy [McCrone] got it wrong.'" I responded by inviting Bernstein to read John Heller's book, Report on the Shroud of Turin and/or Ian Wilson's, The Blood and the Shroud, where McCrone's claims that the Shroud was a painting and that the blood on it was just iron oxide and vermilion, were comprehensively refuted. But he seemed uninterested.

It is ironic that Bernstein used pro-authenticity Shroud research as a prime example of "pathological science" and McCrone's anti-authenticity research as "good science," when the boot is well and truly on the other foot! And Bernstein himself is hardly engaging in "good science" when he lectures on a subject without bothering to read extensively the other side. But then from my analogous experience in the Creation/Intelligent Design vs Evolution debate, that is the whole point of demonising Shroud pro-authenticity research as "bad science" and even "pathological science" or just "faith." Then, like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, one doesn't even have to consider the non-naturalistic other side!

Towards the end of his lecture, Bernstein put up a quote excerpted from Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World (1996, pp.197-198):

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the `facts'.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much letter able to discriminate among competing hypotheses.
  • If there's a chain of argument, every link; in the chain must work (including the premise) - not just most of them.
  • Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  • Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle. falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much.

Ironically, by these criteria, McCrone's Shroud anti-authenticity research fails! In my next post, part #2, I will examine Bernstein's statements about McCrone and comment on them. Note: I never did post that promised part #2!

Posted 7 August 2011. Updated 18 September 2023